“A calorie is a calorie.”
We’ve all heard that phrase before. Yet, we all know the truth is that there’s so much more to it.
The point is… just because things like food can be collectively grouped together under the idea that they all provide energy doesn’t mean they are all equally nutritious or healthy.
The same can be said about cold therapy as not all things are created equal. Here are the four major differences between an ice bath and whole body cryotherapy!
#1: Cryotherapy Reduces Cold Exposure Length
The standard length of time for an ice bath is anywhere between 8-20 minutes. The length of time depends on how cold you can get the water and how well it is circulated.
A cryotherapy session, lasts for only 3 minutes! This dramatic difference is mainly due to the second variable of intensity.
#2: Cryotherapy Is 20x Colder Than An Ice Bath
Now, if you love the cold, you may feel like you are getting cheated on time if you do a cryotherapy session. However, if you are like most, you may be rejoicing at the idea of having to spend less time in the cold.
But how could less time give you the same benefits?
It has everything to do with how cold each therapy is. For an ice bath, the water temperature is typically between 40 degrees and 55 degrees F.
For the duration of a whole body cryotherapy session, you are exposed to a temperature below -200 F.
That’s a drastic difference!
To comprehend why temperature matters, it must be understood that the cold is a stimulus rather than a healing mechanism itself.
Consider that exercise is a stimulus that breaks down muscle cells and that the body’s response to this is to build back the cells stronger than they were previously.
Similarly, this means that the cold itself does not provide the benefits for recovery. Rather, the benefits are found in how our body responds to the cold.
#3: Cryotherapy Isn't Perceived As Cold As An Ice Bath
If you read over the idea of exposing yourself to a temperature of -200 degrees F with no fear, then you are a stud.
Most people immediately cringe when they think about how cold that is.
However, you must consider the difference between the two treatments. An ice bath involves water while cryotherapy uses extremely dry air.
Those are significant difference!
If you’ve ever plunged into cold water before, then you know it’s not a very pleasant feeling.
The reality is that ice baths feel extremely cold. Even with acknowledging their benefit, many athletes hate and neglect doing them because they are painfully cold.
When it comes to comfort, the solution is cryotherapy. Even though the temperature is drastically colder than an ice bath, your body doesn’t perceive it simple because the air surrounding you is so dry.
In fact, while the cold from water will penetrate deep into the body, the cold from cryotherapy will only reach about 1 millimeter deeper into your skin, leaving your core temperature unchanged!
#4: An Ice Bath Can Actually Slow Down Recovery
After reading the previous sentence you may be scratching your head thinking “wait a second, I thought the cold was a good thing. Why would I want the cold to only reach 1 millimeter deep into my body? That sounds like a waste of time.”
To address that question, first remember that the cold is simply a stimulus while it’s our body’s reaction that generates the benefits.
Therefore, the cold only needs to be applied to the areas of the body where it can respond appropriately…
Primarily, the largest sensory organ in our body, our skin.
Our skin contains thermoreceptors that respond to changing temperatures. It is these receptors that tell our body to sweat when we’re hot or to shiver when we’re cold.
Therefore, providing an extremely powerful stimulus to these receptors is helpful in getting a large response from the body. Thus, there is no need to allow the cold to penetrate beyond the skin as it’s our skin that starts the chain reaction to the large temperature fluctuation.
If that wasn’t enough, research suggests that deeply penetrating cold that lowers the temperature of our muscles actually delays the physiological process of recovery.
Many professional and collegiate sports teams have shifted their recovery regimen from ice baths to whole body cryotherapy for this specific reason. By keeping the cold stimulus out of muscles, athletes are able to maximize the benefits of cold therapy without disrupting the physiological process of healing!
The bottom line on cryotherapy and ice baths
Although ice baths and cryotherapy are both helpful for relieving pain and inflammation, the intensity of cryotherapy generates a greater whole-body response.
Serious athletes should consider the implications of ice bathing as it may have a negative effect on the physiological process of muscular recovery.
While we will always advocate any type of cold exposure over nothing at all, when it comes to comfort, duration, and effectiveness, cryotherapy is a clear winner.
At RISE Modern Wellness, our goal is to ensure every individual that walks into our facility leaves feeling phenomenal. If you struggle with chronic pain or desire a natural boost of energy or enhanced metabolism, cryotherapy is a great tool to check out!